Already out the gate with the best record in baseball for the month of April, let’s see if the start can hold water for an entire season.
Last Five Years:
2012: 69 – 93 (5th, AL East)
2011: 90 – 72 (3rd, Crashed AL East)
2010: 89 – 73 (3rd, AL East)
2009: 95 – 67 (2nd, AL East)
2008: 95 – 67 (2nd, AL East)
In general, the trend is working in the wrong direction, but if Bob McGrath were singing “Which One of These Things is Not Like the Other…”, we’d single out the Bobby Valentine era as the odd ball. The Sox have averaged about 88 wins a season. Without checking any of the rest of it, to guess that the Sox could bounce back to 75 – 80 wins wouldn’t have been an improbable prediction.
Runs Scored: 734 (5th in the AL)
Runs Allowed: 806 (13th in the AL – ouch)
Runs in Fenway Park: 842, tops in the AL
Runs on the road: 698, 9th in the AL
So, for 2012, Fenway – always a good hitter’s park, was even more so last season.
Mixed previews…. Some people thought the Sox would remain competitive, having spent a lot of money to bring in veteran talent. Many thought the hiring of Bobby Valentine might be an odd way to mix things up following the firing of Terry Francona. I’ll say…
The team got off to a bland start, but a nice streak of six wins got the team back to .500 as the month of April ended. Losing nine of ten, the Sox fell out of the race as Bobby Valentine was losing his clubhouse as fast as you can say “Kevin Youkilis wasn’t mentally ready to play.” To the Sox credit, they battled back to 21 – 21 and a second hot streak got the Sox to 42 – 37 right as July began.
At that point, the Sox fell out of contention. They sputtered through August, first slowly, and then – starting on about 8/19 – they fell off the map. The Sox would give up ten or more runs in a game every week or more – seven times in the last 38 games. As August ended, the Sox traded away a bunch of people who were seen as under-producing (Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford) and turned it over to the next wave of Sox players. The Astros played better in September. The Sox won just 27 of their last 83 games; and went 10 – 31 in the last 41 games.
Some minor moves before the season – resigning Cody Ross and David Ortiz, and trading Marco Scutaro to Colorado for Clayton Mortensen. I can’t prove it, but maybe the season went south when they signed pitcher Billy Buckner on 2/29.
Actually, the were proving an interest in Chicago. The traded Michael Bowden to the Cubs for Marlon Byrd. Ouch – he was released in June. The signed Mark Prior to a minor league deal. The picked up former ChiSox outfielder Scott Podsednik when outfielders were hard to find in May. Kevin Youkilis was moved to the White Sox in June for Brent Lillibridge and Zach Stewart. I don’t see that working out… They even sold Justin Germano (to the Cubs) and released Bobby Jenks (former Sox closer) – and in a related moved, signed Andy LaRoche, whose dad was a pitcher for the Cubs… Look – the Cubs stink, and while the White Sox were pretty good, cast offs aren’t going to help…
Here’s a move I don’t understand. They traded away Podsednik to Arizona, then signed him when Arizona released Podsednik.
I mentioned the big sell off – the Sox traded Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Nick Punto, and CASH to the Dodgers for James Loney, Ivan DeJesus, Allen Webster, and two guys who arrived in October – Rubby De La Rosa and Jerry Sands.
Jon Lester had an off season, falling from ace to league average pitcher. Clay Buchholz fell from surprise ace to league average. Josh Beckett fell from famous pitcher who sometimes looks dominating to a shade below league average (and with a 5 – 11 record, looks worse than he really was). Daisuke Matsuzaka went 1 – 7 with an ERA north of 8.00, Daniel Bard proved he was a reliever in 10 starts, Aaron Cook was given 18 starts to prove he was done (5.65 ERA). Felix Doubront looked tolerable in 29 starts – I think he can build on that.
Going forward, the Red Sox could make immediate gains if Lester and Buchholz just got back half of what they lost in 2012 – that’s 30 saved runs. Getting a fourth starter that could be CLOSE to league average to replace Dice-K and Cook could save 30 runs. Replacing Josh Beckett with Ryan Dempster looks to be a wash – Dempster was awesome in Chicago, but rocked in Texas. Boston just feels more like his kind of place – I think he can be at least league average in 30 starts, which is still better than 21 Josh Beckett starts and 10 bad Daniel Bard starts… If Doubront doesn’t fall back and if John Lackey ever gets healthy, who knows. I like the rotation to be 50 – 60 runs better than last year.
Losing Andrew Bailey, who was brutal, and having to use Alfredo Aceves as a closer was bad. I know Aceves got 25 saves, but the two combined to cost the Sox six unnecessary runs. The rest of the pen was a nice patch work of guys like Junichi Tazawa, Andrew Miller, Rich Hill, Clayton Mortensen, Vincente Padilla, and Matt Albers. Sure, they had a few sore thumbs (I’m looking at you, Mark Melancon and Zach Stewart), but every bullpen has one or two.
This year, the Sox signed Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan, have Andrew Bailey back, and added Koji Uehara to Tunizawa, Miller, and Mortensen. This could be a bullpen that is ten runs better than last year.
I’m thinking that the Sox missed their captain, the retired Jason Varitek. Boston gave the job to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, with Kelly Shoppach (now gone) and Ryan Lavarnway as backups. People could run on both Salty and Lavarnway (108 stolen, 21 caught), and as a unit, the team was below average in winning percentage, team ERA, and tended to be error prone. The only category in which Boston catchers were above average was mobility (assists not tied to caught stealing), and that’s not saying a whole lot.
Shoppach was their best defensive catcher, had the best batting rates (5 runs per 27 outs, the only above average offensive player) – so he’s gone. I know – Saltalamacchia hit 25 homers, but he batted .222 with a sub .300 OBP. He hit like Jason Varitek did at the end, but with no defensive positives. Salty is back, but the Sox did bring in David Ross from Atlanta, who is a fine catcher and should get at least 500 innings of work.
Adrian Gonzalez was underperforming, maybe, but he was still hitting .300 with 37 doubles and 86 RBI with a month to go. And, he was saving them 35 runs with his glove in five months – gold glove play. James Loney can’t hope to replace that – so the Sox let him leave and signed Mike Napoli to play there. Napoli is an underrated catcher – I’d let him do that from time to time and try to find a better hitter (Daniel Nava?) to play first. Dustin Pedroia was productive but his range is falling quickly. Never GREAT before, he cost the team more than 15 runs because he makes nearly nine fewer plays per 870 balls in play than the average second sacker. Mike Aviles was a below average hitter – first time in a full season he did that – but ordinary at short. The Sox will try Stephen Drew there in 2013 – and I think he’s going to be a weak fielder and I fear he may not be that great a hitter anymore. He has the tools to be, but it’s been a while. If he hits his 150 game norms, he’s not going to be appreciably better than Mike Aviles overall. A few more runs on the board for both teams… The one place Boston may improve is at third, where Will Middlebrooks will get full time duty. Youkilis struggled last season, so if Middlebrooks can match his half season stats across a full season, that will help. He is NOT in Youkilis’s league as a fielder, but Youk was fading there last year.
As a whole, this group will likely be 50 runs worse defensively, but break even offensively.
A team that had so many injuries, nine guys played in left, eleven guys played in center, and eleven more played in right. With Crawford gone, the Sox may try Jackie Bradley (he already got sent back) in left, or Daniel Nava. They need a full (and productive) season from centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury – who is, at best, a league average fielder but CAN be a crazy good hitter. Cody Ross is gone; Shane Victorino, who is as productive a hitter and a slightly better fielder will play right. If Nava can step forward and get on base, or at least be a solid platoon with Jonny Gomes, and Ellsbury can get healthy, there is a chance for 40 – 50 extra runs on the board with little change in defensive value.
David Ortiz should be around for 25 more games than the 90 games he played last year, but at his age, he might decline some. Nava can play all over, Victorino can spell Ellsbury if needed, and Pedro Ciriaco will be the utility infielder. Not a bad bunch.
On the Farm!
At Pawtucket, the only prospect from 2012 may have been catcher Ryan Lavernway, who hit .295 and played with the big club. He’s at least a good backup. The best pitcher was probably Justin Germano, but he is 29 and now a Cub. He’s no prospect.
2010 first round pick Bryce Brentz hit .296 at Portland (AA), showing power, and might make the big club this year. Jackie Bradley didn’t look overmatched in his 61 games there – he was a 2011 first rounder. Stolmy Pimentel didn’t look as strong as he had previously. The reliever with promise may be Aaron Kurcz, who fanned 72 in 50 innings, but is wild. 2008 first round pick Joshua Fields is getting there – better control and 59 Ks in his 44 innings. Unfortunately, he’s an Astro right now…
Look out for 3B Michael Almanzar, who hit .300 with power at A+ Salem. He and SS Xander Bogaerts, who is just 20, will follow in the shoes of Jackie Bradley one day. 1B Travis Shaw had Adrian Gonzalez numbers there – but I don’t think that’s what he will be when he gets to the majors… Keith Couch is looking close to being a prospect after going 11 – 9 with good control in 145.2 innings. The better prospect might be Matt Barnes, the 2011 top pick, who strikes people out and is building a solid minor league resume very quickly.
Well, when I add up the offensive gains and the defensive gains (pitching) and losses (infield gloves), I see the Sox making strides toward .500. I see them scoring about 65 more runs, and maybe saving five to ten runs over last year. That puts them around 800 runs scored and allowed – or 81 wins. I’m not convinced the hot start is going to stay for the year, but it will be a better season for Sox fans than 2012.